Thursday, December 24, 2009

Independent innovation. Happy Holidays Ben Franklin!

A new Business Week article - Ben Franklin Where Are You? - is about the United States falling behind in the global patent race.

The article in the Dec. 28, 2009 issue by Michael Arndt documents the fact that in 2009 for the first time non-Americans were granted more U.S. patents than resident inventors.

The body of the article focuses on the difficulties universities and high tech centers are facing in the patent race. However, the headline (celebrating Ben Franklin) highlights our history as independent innovators.

It's my opinion that this kind of citizen innovation and entrepreneurship is more alive and flourishing than I've ever seen in decades of work in the field. In fact I think the world is full of Ben Franklins, and that the age of the independent entrepreneur and inventor is just arriving.

I think a difference between an independent inventor and those in universities and corporate labs is that independent inventors work to solve very specific problems not create new technologies.

Dave and I didn't have any budget to launch or grow our company. We had values that were important to us and each of us had a skill set that built on the other person's strengths.

We also knew some really cool ways to solve some very specific problems. The fact that new technologies emerged from this and were taken through the intellectual property process was an afterthought.

The fact that the rest of the world is surpassing the United States in patents is a tribute to the value placed on ever increasing innovation by governments and societies worldwide. Much of the world seems to get it that continuous, sustainable innovation is the only way forward.

So, my favorite independent innovation story from the last startup Dave and I founded…

One of the world's leading satellite and space manufacturing firms, Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne, recently gutted their two satellite and space manufacturing plants in California and retrofitted them from the ground up with worldwide 'best of class' equipment. Their corporate mantra is: "Pure and simple, we are the best at what's new."

Rocketdyne chose to recycle their manufacturing fluids using inventions Dave and I created. We worked out these ideas far from corporate labs and universities.

It was my last major sale for our company. I really miss that work.

Thank you Pratt and Whitney! The fact that you chose our inventions as the 'best of what's new' for fluid recycling in 21st century space manufacturing is a lifelong honor for an independent inventor.

For those of you working in the trenches, let me say that there are big firms and important organizations looking for better ideas and ways to innovate. Even when you're doubting your own capability to execute or to reach those markets, press on. The world needs you, your ideas, and your work. Like Pratt & Whitney, keep working to be the best at what's new.

Happy Holidays 2009!

Photo courtesy of Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne. Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-110)

Business Week article, Ben Franklin Where Are you?. Online edition Dec. 17, 2009. Print edition Dec. 28th and Jan. 4th.

Our first patent (patent number 6,183,654). I wrote this patent and did the patent drawings. For our subsequent inventions, we turned this process over to our wonderful patent attorney Dr. Jaen Andrews - Thank you Dr. Jaen!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Building development landscapes

The idea I've been working on this year is that it's possible to build economic development landscapes. That is, design systems that let people enter the process of economic development at multiple points. You don't plant a tree or two. You try to create a sustainable landscape in which a wide range of interrelated opportunities for growth exist.

In my current job, because of the amazing assets we have in place, I'm working to make Iowa County a premier location to learn about and participate in agriculture and local foods entrepreneurship.

Our Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen will allow beginning food entrepreneurs to get into the game professionally, with greatly lowered barriers to entry.

Existing small food enterprises can use the kitchen to reach new, higher levels of quality, sales and profitability.

At this end of the landscape spectrum there will be many, many points of entry for individuals and small businesses.

At the other end of this spectrum the Driftless Foods project is moving forward. This has felt like the best startup idea I've ever seen since the first moments that Mark and I started talking.

Driftless Foods offers a chance for some serious meta-level good. There is a strong component to helping farmers stay on their farms by building the infrastructure they need to process local foods at a scale that can profitably support regions. It's a way to help people to get into farming and to help existing farmers securely diversify their sources of income.

The project recently got a very nice recommendation from the Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Rod Nilsestuen.

"The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection strongly supports Driftless Foods and The Iowa County Economic Development Corporation in their efforts to create a vegetable processing and freezing facility.

A facility such as this will help meet the growing demand for locally grown foods, a demand that is increasingly important to the vitality of Wisconsin agriculture.

I firmly believe that Wisconsin's future is tied to the success of our agricultural sector, and the success of that sector depends on innovation and diversity. We need to keep farmland in farming and farm families on their farms. This project can help us do both. It also creates new job opportunities in your region and opens new economic development possibilities.

I can also see in this project the opportunity to create a model for processing locally grown foods that other communities can follow. This model promises to celebrate local foods, be profitable, and return value directly to the producers, the communities they live in, and the regions that support them."

What a wonderful, insightful show of support. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary!

So with the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen opening at one end of the spectrum and Driftless Foods launching at the other end of the spectrum, we've got a fairly diverse development landscape underway.

In the middle of that spectrum are some really delightful co-conspirators helping to knit this effort together.

We met today to plan the first information sessions for our regional growers. This will all take varying amounts of time. The Innovation Kitchen will be open in the Spring for food processing on a small to moderate scale. For the larger scale of Driftless Foods growers need to plan well in advance for joining this kind of enterprise.

We will have 3 informational meetings focusing on Driftless Foods in January and February. Because this is a diversified effort, we will also be able to support interested growers with information about the Innovation Kitchen.

The first two dates are not quite set, but the details for the third meeting are in place. We will dedicate the February 24th Entrepreneur Club meeting in Dodgeville to this grower information session. I'll post details below.

So, the development landscape grows across the spectrum and we can soon begin inviting people in.

This has been an amazing year watching and learning from this experiment in economic development landscapes.

Letter of support from Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Rod Nilsestuen

Link to the Iowa County Entrepreneur and Inventor Club page. Our Feb. 24th meeting will focus on opportunities for regional growers being created by the Driftless Foods project.

Photos are from our magical Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point. Our EDC was able to host the quarterly meeting of the Thrive Economic Development Pros at Shake Rag Alley last Friday. Our meeting was in the replica 1840s carpenter's cabinet shop. Karla and her great team had it beautifully decorated to receive area children for Santa's visit the next day so the atmosphere was great. Thanks to all who came and shared beautiful Iowa County with us!

Mark Olson and Renaissance Farm

Monday, December 14, 2009

Artisan food processing

The opportunity for entrepreneurship in local and regional foods surpasses anything I've seen in my 35+ year career as a working entrepreneur. It's like software, only sustainable.

In the world of local and regional foods there is a wildly expanding demand and an impossibly small capacity to supply this demand. The supply side - the people who grow and process these local foods - need help to get to a scale that is sufficient to begin meeting this demand.

It's a big subject with serious economic development implications for rural and urban areas worldwide.

My goal is to help launch our new Innovation Kitchen efficiently and with high value for all involved. I'm going to need to convey a lot of information across a wide variety of subject areas as clearly as I can.

That's why I took the Wisconsin Acidified Foods Training Course and passed my exams so as to be certified, as trained in: "microbiology of canned foods, principles of acidified foods, thermal processing, food process sanitation, facilities requirements, state and federal regulations, record keeping and process monitoring."

Not everyone will need this course to become an artisan food processor but many will. For anyone in Wisconsin thinking about this, I urge you to take this course (linked below). It's taught by Dr. Barbara Ingham, from the Department of Food Science at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Ingham teaches this course 6 or 7 times per year around the state.

I could not recommend this course any higher if you are considering any kind of artisan food enterprise in Wisconsin.

All foods with any water content have a pH. This measures the acidity of that food. A pH of 4.6 is the magic number. Foods that are pH 4.6 or lower have enough acidic content to be assured of safety. Shelf stability of acidified canned foods is ensured by a vacuum seal and adequate thermal processing.

Artisan food entrepreneurs utilizing these kinds of foods who want to work from the Innovation Kitchen will need to pass these exams first. After taking this course I sincerely believe that this is not some kind of onerous intervention into free enterprise. Just the opposite. Being part of a system like this - one that inspires the highest quality, safest and most interesting food products is a branding windfall.

If you have an interest in this subject, this course is not only fun, but it is densely packed with information that Dr. Ingham shares in ways that are understandable and easy to remember. Also the take-away binders contain printouts of everything relevant to your journey as an acidified foods for later reference.

We were also very fortunate to have Dave Steinhardt, who is a Food Safety Supervisor with the WI Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Dave answered a wide range of questions regarding the inspection protocols that our artisan food processors will need to follow when working in the Innovation Kitchen.

This was a wonderful course. I can't recommend it highly enough.

For those of you in other areas, I would strongly recommend you search out this kind of training. It is in your own best interests. You will create better food products, and you will have a better business because of it.

Not all processors will need this kind of course. Some may need even more advanced courses, depending on the food. Some processors may require less training. My point is that you can't just wander into the subject and open up shop. You'll need to find out what training is needed and learn how to work in a community-access processing kitchen. It's not hard. You just have to do it, for all the right reasons.

So, back to the start. I believe there is a terrific entrepreneurship opportunity in artisan food processing, especially with a focus on local and regional foods.

If you have an interest in this field, start organizing yourself to get in the game. Costs to enter are low, demand is high, there appears to be a good opportunity for profit and - if this course is an indication - artisan food processing can be a lot of fun.

Download the 2010 Wisconsin Acidified Canned Foods Training for Small Food Processors brochure and registration form. PDF format. 164 KB

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen

This story ran in the The Dodgeville (WI) Chronicle November 19, 2009. The article is not yet on line. Subscribe to the Dodgeville Chronicle by calling 608 935 2331

Food Innovation Kitchen will help launch new businesses

Published November 19, 2009


Iowa County will soon become home to one of the most creative economic development projects in the country - The Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen - which has the potential for starting and growing hundreds of unique small businesses.

The Innovation Kitchen is a new, state certified food processing facility owned by the Hodan Center. It will also be available for public access, as a shared use community processing and marketing kitchen. Foods made here can legally be sold to the public.

The Hodan Center broke ground for the 10,000 square foot processing and retail facility four months ago at its previous Dairy Queen/Miners Point property in Mineral Point. Currently under construction, it is expected to open in early 2010.

"The kitchen will be available on an hourly rental basis to food entrepreneurs and small businesses," explained Rick Terrien, Executive Director of the Iowa County Area Economic Development Corporation (ICAEDC). The community shared-use portion of the project is being coordinated and marketed by the ICAEDC.

"We have an agreement that I'll do the entrepreneurship and business work, and the Hodan Center will do all of the kitchen work," Terrien said.

"The Hodan Center has created varied work opportunities for the client-employees they serve," he added. " Among other things, they have developed a line of their own food products. - dry goods, wet gods, gift baskets, and other things, - called 'Papa Pat's' Their products are in about 700 stores in 26 states. They've gotten so good at doing this, they ran out of space. It's an Iowa County economic development success story."

Last year The Hodan Center requested a Community Development Block Grant for the kitchen from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. They were awarded a grant for $750,000.

Community access kitchens have been tried at various places in Wisconsin. The most successful model is a ten year-old venture in Algoma, called The Farm Market Kitchen.

"They have a small kitchen with 80 food businesses. Chocolatiers, bakers, people making mixes, sauces and salsas come from four counties away to process foods and start businesses there," Terrien said. "Most of them come in the evenings, because they are doing their small business start-up in addition to their day jobs."

"A great benefit for this project in Iowa County is that we have our own anchor tenant (Hodan Center) and the tenant already has people to work there, along with knowledge and experience in food processing," he said.

The Hodan Center client-employees will use the kitchen 5 days a week for their own products. Evenings and weekends it will be available to regional food entrepreneurs for starting or expanding their food businesses.

"In 35 years as an entrepreneur, I've never seen an easier or more affordable opportunity for starting your own small business than this Innovation Kitchen," Terrien said enthusiastically. His experience ranges from teaching basic business start-ups to having businesses with clients on six continents.

Now he is working out the kitchen details with Annette Pierce, Food Service Administrator at Hodan Center. The Hodan Center plans to offer its services to kitchen renters at an affordable price, and can help with supplying discounted ingredients, if entrepreneurs wish.

There are five different ways for food entrepreneurs to access the kitchen. On the most basic end of the spectrum are people who want to bring in their own ingredients, do all of the work, package their products at the kitchen site and sell it there. The front portion of the building will serve as a retail display area for products made by The Hodan Center and the entrepreneurs.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who want to have a food processing business without doing the work. They have the option of handing The Hodan Center a recipe which its client-employees would produce, package and label with the entrepreneur's own logo. The other options range between these two extremes.

"People can do a slow start-up with this. They don't have to be Donald Trump," Terrien said. "They can bring an idea to my office and I'll show them a basic, entry level business plan. I'll help them understand the possibilities and their responsibilities."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The 'Eight Courtesies' of effective enterprise.

These posts have consistently tried to advocate for sustainable, repeatable business practices.

This brings me back often to Tom Peters. I am thrilled to see Tom has a new book coming out in early 2010. Tom Peters is at the top of my list of transformative business thinkers.

His new book is called "The Little BIG Things". Sounds like Tom at his best. He is building his current presentations around what he calls "The Eight Courtesies". I'll highlight them below. Buy the book.

Yes, the economy is awful and people are getting hurt badly, but it doesn't mean that we can't explore options for finding a way forward. There are opportunities for 'the rest of us' to start and grow new and emerging enterprises. I have a powerful sense that new kinds of local and regional trade will continue to emerge worldwide for the foreseeable future. It's happening from Australia to the West Bank, to Avoca, WI, and to China (hello Yongchao!).

There are deep and fruitful opportunities here. I am increasingly seeing my immediate contribution to the subject being enterprise creation through local foods.

Individually, these new enterprises may not seem Wall Street worthy, but in aggregate they represent a lot of positive, sustainable, long-term value for economic development on Main Streets and across regions.

So how do you participate? Think you've got to be some kind of uber-trained CEO type to run a new enterprise effectively? Think again.

It's nothing of the sort. You can do it. You DO do it now in other areas of your life. After 35+ years of entrepreneurship I couldn't have described effective entrepreneurship any better than Tom Peters is doing right now.

Here are the eight most important management tools Tom prescribes in The Little BIG Things.


Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart.—Henry Clay

The 'Eight Courtesies'

1. Stay in touch. (MBWA: Management By Wandering Around)

2. Invest in relationships. (Make friends. Obsess.)

3. Listen. (Respect. Learn. Student. PROFESSIONAL. Sustainable Competitive Advantage #1)

4. Ask. (Engage. Inspire. Consult. React.)

5. Thank. (Appreciate. Acknowledge.)

6. Network......

7. Apologize. (Unequivocal. Rectify. Over-react. Forgive.)

8. Practice thoughtfulness. (Kindness is free. This is ... STRATEGIC.)"

You heard it here: The Renaissance age of entrepreneurship is just beginning. Remember Tom's 'Eight Courtesies' as you journey.

You can do this friend. Start. Engage. Be courteous. Enjoy.

Eight Courtesies: From TP blog 11/24/09

I'm going to buy this book: The Little BIG Things. New book by Tom Peters out February 2010

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving 2009

"If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas."

-- George Bernard Shaw

Much, much to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!

Plant kaleidoscope at Olbrich Gardens in Madison, WI

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Regional Food Systems

My friend Mark Olson and I, with a scary-smart group of emerging friends, have been working out possibilities for our Iowa County initiative. This is an economic development prototype to build interrelated local food processing clusters, operated at a scale to meet institutional demand. These facilities will be located strategically across rural economies and organized in a way that is mutually self-supportive. The design of this system moves the bulk of the revenue through the management and production levels, delivering it to the producers and their communities. There is a link at the end to the summary white paper about this initiative that we presented at the Slow Money Institute in Madison this summer.

To me, creating experiments in all kinds of regional food systems is needed. This is a startup effort and startups are not straight-line endeavors. Stuff needs to get learned. Policies and procedures need to get worked out. That doesn't mean go slow. It means to hurry up. Let's make our mistakes early, often, and inexpensively. Our Iowa County / Driftless Foods initiative is a startup designed to to develop and document the knowledge needed take the next steps.

With that base in place, our goal is replication elsewhere: finding ways to deploy successful regional food systems models in other places and at bigger scales.

I had a great meeting this week with a nearby multi-state region of 10 to 15 counties. This may become an opportunity to replicate the Iowa County prototype in a larger, more diverse region sooner than later. I've got some great new friends across this area. I am not only confident, but flat-out excited that we could knit together a world-changing leadership team for this project. Our goal is to create a reproducible regional food system, this time at a bigger scale. The idea is that a successful multi-county (and especially multi-state) model would be one that could be replicated nationally in short order.

Of course, every area will have its own ag (and non ag) resources to contribute to these regional systems. However, I believe the process of organizing and deploying regional food systems is what's critical for making them successful and reproducible. That's at the heart of what is valuable here.

And, to walk-the-walk, I had a chance this week to say what I thought local food processing clusters most needed right now in response to a question from people who could make my answer happen. I had a chance to ask for a lot of money but (per last week's post) I actually said enabling legislation.

On first review I was sure I should have said money, mostly because it's likely true. However, if regional food systems are to be made replicable, they really need some meta support, like enabling legislation, that will give people working on local food initiatives some actual tools to help them move the discussion forward. We need to quit talking about this and take some action steps. We need to create opportunities, enable infrastructure, build markets, create jobs and jump start economic development by nurturing market demand and giving our entrepreneurs a stable platform to grow from.

I remember the early days of recycled paper. It was a good idea that everyone talked about but was stuck in kind of a niche market of early adopters. When the Wisconsin government decided to emphasize the use of recycled paper in its purchasing, that business took off and we've never looked back.

I would suggest that we don't need more requirements, but if the enabling legislation were to just say that opportunities to utilize locally grown and locally processed foods should be explored, it would be huge. The locally processed language would give permission and support to people within local institutions - schools, hospitals, etc. - to see what they can do with local foods. Their buying power will ultimately most enable the success of this process. I would not make these institutions buy locally grown and locally processed foods. I would make it easier for them to do.

If the enabling legislation just indicated that locally grown and locally processed foods were included as a recommendation, but not a requirement, many valuable interests could be served, bypassing potential battle lines.

So, a really wonderful week for local foods processing. Future's so bright… I gotta wear shades. Based on what we learned this week we're planning on ramping up the pace of the rollout of our Iowa County initiative.

As my friend Mark always signs off, be well.

Download PDF white paper on our local food processing initiative first presented to the Slow Money Institute gathering in Madison this summer.

A great interview with Salli Martyniak of Forward Community Investments and Wally Orzechowski of Southwest Wisconsin Community Action Program about community investing. Wally is a friend and is a leader in our team rolling out the Driftless Foods / Iowa County initiative. Salli is a new friend who leads one of the most valuable enterprises I've come across in any field, Forward Community Investments

An interview with Mark Olson about his wonderful Renaissance Farm and adding value to agriculture.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Enabling Entrepreneurs

First, a great day this week meeting with the Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, Mike Sheridan. The Speaker is on my left in the photo. On my right is my friend and our State Representative Steve Hilgenberg.

Next, I thoroughly enjoyed my presentation to the Wisconsin Economic Development Association gathering this past Monday.

The discussion at the end of these talks is always the best part. I was asked a long-standing question that is universal: Are entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

I took the obvious route and said yes.

Too easy. I also didn't get the answer right.

Entrepreneurs are not born or made. Entrepreneurs are enabled.

We can't make people do this stuff, but we certainly can make it easier for those that want to.

It's my opinion that we need better entrepreneurship infrastructure of all kinds. That's why I'm so excited about the almost endless possibilities for new business platforms that our Innovation Kitchen in Mineral Point will enable. Ditto for the local foods processing cluster we're designing and building across Iowa County and beyond. New platforms for creating value. Easier ways for people to know their farmers and food processors. Easier paths to value for all involved.

Entrepreneurs are not born or made. Entrepreneurs are enabled.

So, what does that mean in the trenches?

I learned a new term of art (for me anyway) that is one key tool for enabling entrepreneurs: enabling legislation. Enabling legislation isn't a tool like a hammer or a food processing plant. It's language used in law and regulation that helps something desirable happen.

I've got 3 words that I think could change economic development in rural areas dramatically. These three words could be inserted into (enabling) legislation so that it would create an outcome everyone wants. Such as enabling entrepreneurship and local foods.

In many states, including Wisconsin, there is legislation in the works that would guide institutional buying to build in a preference for locally grown food. I applaud that but I would insert my three words: a preference for locally grown and locally processed food.

You've seen this broken model in other business sectors… You produce a product. You ship it out of the region at low prices for value to be added. Then you buy your own stuff back at high prices. Haven't we heard this story long enough?

So, if you are a person out there who is working on local foods initiatives, think about adding one more layer to the equation. Include 'and locally processed' into your descriptions. Three simple words could lead to wonderful rural economic development possibilities. How anyone defines 'local' is up to them, of course, but there needn't be one answer. Different communities at local, state and regional levels can define what's right for them, and we can all have a good food experience figuring it out.

Creating appropriate scale economic infrastructure to support agriculture and rural economies benefits all people in a region. If regions are to prosper, rural communities must be included. Thriving rural economies support and enrich urban economies. Without both, regions stagnate.

We need to enable our local growers and food entrepreneurs a launch path to join the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) movement, sponsored by the White House (Thank you Mrs. Obama!) and the USDA.

We need to enable entrepreneurship of all flavors with as many tools as we can muster.

There is always economic chaos and we are entering an era of even faster change, but I'm a person who believes that, in general, humanity will continue to re-emerge into better lives with increasing value and dignity for continuously-increasing numbers of us.

Entrepreneurs are not born or made. Entrepreneurs are enabled.

You can do it. Wherever you are personally in this discussion, I urge you to enable and to be enabled by the possibilities of entrepreneurship. Let's go. The world needs you!

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Economic development. Learning from action steps

I am really looking forward to a presentation I get to share with the Wisconsin Economic Development Association (WEDA) this coming Monday evening, Nov. 9. They have asked me to discuss opening a new economic development organization.

I am coming up on my first anniversary as an economic developer in rural Wisconsin.

On my first day on the job, Dec. 1, 2008, I was sitting in a vacant conference room in Dodgeville, WI. I had been shoveling info into a newly cloned database as fast as I could all day. I turned on the radio that evening as I set up to leave. I learned that a recession was officially declared to be underway. That day the Dow Jones fell almost 700 points, the 4th biggest drop in its history. To welcome me to my new gig, there was a whopper snowstorm clogging up all of the upper Midwest. Welcome to economic development.

For my talk on Monday I have limited expertise to share about economic development theory but I certainly can share what its like to take on this kind of opportunity as a working entrepreneur.

In short, there are deep and profound opportunities available in our rural and urban economies right now. What's needed now are small, measurable action steps. If we're to create a new and better economy we need to launch as many intelligent experiments as possible, learn from them, and repeat.

I'm convinced our Iowa County initiative is a valuable experiment in this mix. All around us there are big, amorphous, meta discussions underway about improving economic development. But that's all they typically are. Discussions.

Mark Olson and I had a wonderful meeting this week with a gentleman who helps lead USDA Rural Development in Wisconsin. He shared with us a really compelling story about his early work in community development that involved red lining in poor neighborhoods. Their team was most successful when they restricted their organizing and development efforts to a geographically limited footprint. When they did that, their efforts succeeded. They could impose timelines, measurement metrics and then get on with it. When problems arose, they had a manageable scope to deal with. When their peers and managers tried to design 'more efficient' experiments in larger geographic areas, valuable data was lost and the efforts to make things better inevitably failed.

That's why I'm so pumped up about this county scale experiment Mark and I are working on. If it leaks into neighboring counties as we roll it out, all the better. Regions should be knit together by this kind of work.

What's valuable is that we will have a geography in which real experiments can be run and real meaning can be extracted. I want something that works and that's reproducible.

If something like this can't be made to work in one county, it can't be made to work in 5 or 20 or 72 counties. We're preparing a small, smart action step to help take those first steps.

Let the studies follow (informed) action. I want to make well-reasoned, inexpensive mistakes and learn. One foot in front of the other stuff, but for goodness sake, let's do something. Let's put economic development in service to the people who need it, not those who just want to talk about it.

I am very impressed by the potential for USDA Rural Development in Wisconsin to make a national impact. Their interest in our experiment is exciting.

USDA Rural Development, Wisconsin

I made new friends this week who work with Forward Community Investments. This is a wonderful organization that works with nonprofits in Wisconsin to help them make strategic financial decisions and build their financial capacity for greater success. They are holding a cool looking community investing conference on November 19th, in Madison.

I've also made new friends in the Austin, TX area bootstrapping group. I am delighted to be included in their doings. If you are in the Austin area there is a good looking gathering on Monday evening 11/9.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Slow startups. Find the information you'll need

As time allows, I'm going to continue posting about the six steps I think people need to take for launching their own slow startup enterprise.

This post is about the second of the six steps, gathering information in a way that adds value to your idea and sustainability to the platforms you will work from.

In other words, this is about business planning and slow startup enterprises.

A slow startup focuses on creating a new enterprise with limited time and funds. These enterprises are meant to bring increasing sustainability into people's lives and the communities they live in.

The common thread among all types of enterprise, rural or urban, is the need for a map of where you're headed. In the case of a slow startup that map doesn't represent a straight line to an unchangeable goal. A slow startup map, like all great tools, offers many alternate ways of getting somewhere valuable.

The subject of business planning and creating business plans can be presented as a daunting, jargon-laden realm where only experts dwell. There are certainly some kinds of business plans that require that kind of sophistication, but they represent a small slice of the business creation pie.

A slow startup would look at three main areas of focus when building their road map:

Learn what business planning is about and how it can be used for your own personal benefit.

Learn how to find resources for your business planning.

Learn how to create a business planning map, start, then learn from what happens next.

Business planning for slow startups is not an exercise in creating a document for outside investors or approaching banks and funding agencies for loans, though it can certainly be the basis for such efforts in the future. For now, it is a process of gathering information to help make you and your enterprise competent and sustainable.

From my Business Diligence and teaching work I developed a slow startup business plan I can put online. The entrepreneurs complete it as time allows and I can jump in as needed. I've begun using it in my rural economic development work.

Slow startup planning specifically can benefit small food enterprises (SFEs) such as those we hope to nurture at the new Innovation Kitchen and other slow startups that people grow from their kitchen tables.

This isn't the place to go into all the particulars, but a slow startup business plan is meant to work in service to the entrepreneur, not outside funders. It is meant to be a roadmap that includes your specific goals, acknowledging the specific assets and hurdles you face. Great business plans are not cookie-cutter templates. They are working, living documents that entrepreneurs can use to grow personally and to grow their enterprises.

Importantly, there is a strong, wonderful movement emerging of micro-lending investment platforms focusing on person-to-person business relationships in the Kiva style. Kiva has created a transparent, highly ethical model that empowers me and hundreds of thousands of micro investors to invest and loan small amounts to innovators worldwide.

New funding/micro-loan platforms are emerging that will focus on specific types of enterprise, such as eco-tech and sustainable foods. For new and emerging entrepreneurs to benefit from this opportunity, they won't necessarily need a fixed-in-stone business plan but they will need to be able to produce and demonstrate a competent planning map.

Dwight Eisenhower said, "Plans are nothing; planning is everything." If that approach was good enough for the largest military invasion in world history, then I would suggest it's a safe approach for your slow startup.

You need to plan, act, revise, repeat. That's the essence of a great slow startup business plan.

Don't let that process dissuade you from starting. Start and build. Search out the information you'll need to know to grow. Make it personal. Make it your own. Business planning is an iterative process. One foot in front of the other on a march planned to include alternate routes. If you don't start you'll never have a map. Without a map you'll just continue to wander, or worse, never start your journey.

This isn't hard. You can do it. If you start now you can build something valuable into your life and into the fabric of the communities you live in.

Slow startups are designed to fit into your life as it's lived now. Take advantage of the help, support and tools available and begin.

Entrepreneurship represents the core of the emerging economy of the 21st century. Join that revolution and see where it takes you.

Acknowledge the time needed. Plan your map. Map your plan. Start. You can do it.


Northern Water Snake

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Find Heroes. Do Demos. Tell Stories."

As anyone who has read these post for a while knows, I am a really big fan of Tom Peters and his work in designing management structures and work policies that achieve results.

I have been reading Tom Peters for decades now. Tom writes for a more urban crowd I think. What I find really interesting is that as I move into rural economic development work I am finding many farmers and rural entrepreneurs who also embrace Tom's work.

Busy weekend doing economic development budgets. Lost the time for a proper post so I thought I would share a quote from Tom Peters that I read recently.

Here is a short summary of how to effectively approach enterprise. You don't need glitz, you need truth. Here it is:

"Find Heroes. Do Demos. Tell Stories."
--Tom Peters

You want to get into enterprise? You want to explore small business? You want to know what to do next? Do that.

Tom Peters site

Photo is from the really fun plant kaleidoscopes at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, one of my favorite board rooms

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Slow startups. Get a realistic understanding.

Slow startups allow people to fit a small business into their lives in sustainable ways. You get to decide how much time and money you can spend. Both can be small but if you act on your small business during the time set aside, you can come out the other end with something valuable to you, financially and culturally.

At that point you have a real enterprise. You'll have a base of unique skills and knowledge that will allow you to take your enterprise in any direction you want. You will have customers, cash flow and a track record. You will have learned to control your data. These are the pieces required to jump to the next stages, if that's what you want to do.

This is NOT an approach for people who need immediate relief. That's a different story. This story is about slowly building a platform that can support your life and your dreams for the long term.

However, this does not advocate dreaming only. This idea is about doing. Making mistakes, pulling/learning yourself up. Becoming a professional entrepreneur. Spending as little money as as possible. Getting a realistic understanding of your market.

How do you do that? It means going slowly, with time and money allocated as you have available, but once allocated that plan is executed.

It means trying. Learning. Capturing the data. Try, learn, repeat.

Our new Innovation Kitchen in Mineral Point (they've poured concrete!) will be a great platform for testing this idea. People will be able to try out different models of food entrepreneurship at radical-cheap price points due to wonderful public/private partnerships in our region.

I'm very specifically designing paths into the Innovation Kitchen in such a way that it makes its easy for new startup entrepreneurs to say 'no'. This will help create better, smarter and more sustainable entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs need clear paths for easily and inexpensively testing their ideas. However, at any point in the learning process the entrepreneur should be celebrated for saying 'no' and supported when switching directions as markets dictate.

Giving up on your preferred, stated direction - saying 'no I don't want to do THAT'- is not a sign of business weakness it is a sign of enterprise (and personal) strength. Learning to say no is perhaps the most important skill to develop while gaining a realistic understanding of your ideas.

So, back to the new Innovation Kitchen for examples. This is a unique opportunity to put these slow startup ideas in play.

Anyone who wants to launch a new food business by working in the kitchen will be offered the opportunity to do a low budget shakedown cruise with their idea.

New entrepreneurs can first meet with the foodservice staff at the Innovation Kitchen to discuss their recipes and processes. Our staff can help with everything from business planning to vendor sourcing to cooking tips to nutrition labeling to packaging and everything in between. The entrepreneurs can take a dry run through all the steps in the process. Innovation Kitchen staff can also help prepare custom production plans to match the needs of the entrepreneur and prepare cost estimates for production runs.

The entrepreneur can plunge in or change plans at this point. They can evaluate the demands on their time and money and may choose to launch their enterprise using a different model. Fine! Good to learn early and inexpensively. First ideas are rarely the best. Changing isn't failure. It's success.

If they get this far and still want to proceed, the new food entrepreneur will be offered free slow startup business plans to start filling in and help to launch their enterprise.

This shakedown cruise can also include a production run of the food entrepreneur's recipe. The entrepreneur will get to cook in a professional, state-certified kitchen under production conditions. The learning opportunities will be invaluable.

They will come out the end of this process with plans probably modified from those they entered with. Importantly they will have a production run of their recipe, professionally processed and packaged, ready to commercially market. They will have created their own product that they can use to test market and launch their new businesses or product lines with. The thrill of getting to this point with a unique product of your own creation and taking it into the public space is exhilarating.

As an economic developer I see my role as giving as many people as possible as many opportunities as possible for testing entrepreneurship. The next step is to provide as many alternatives as possible for those who want to switch directions. They have self-selected as emerging entrepreneurs. They are a seam of gold. The next thing to do is provide as many enabling paths as possible for smelting that gold into value.

The slow startup entrepreneur trades their time for knowledge.

Slow startup entrepreneurs pull themselves through the early learning curve utilizing the best help and the best tools available to them.

The slow startup entrepreneur carefully builds a realistic understanding of what it takes to wake up an idea, as well as the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship and how to plan for both.

One foot in front of the other. Try, learn, repeat.

That's how you gain a realistic understanding of your entrepreneurial idea.

This is not a doom-and-gloom scenario. Just the opposite. Slow startups are a path to an achievable solution that can make your life better. Every mistake you make, every bit of wisdom, every new digit of data puts you ahead of potential competitors. It's your intellectual property. You are earning your 'patents'.

How do you get a realistic understanding of the process? Start now. Get smart. Go slow.

You can do it.

Driftless Appetite. One of my favorite food blogs, celebrating life and local foods in Southwest Wisconsin. Also new friends!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Slow Startups. What to do first.

The economy is rebuilding, but I don't know anyone who feels relaxed about their future economic security.

People want to put some stability and meaning back into their economic lives. There are certainly many paths to get there.

I've been writing about slow startups as a viable path for creating smart new enterprises that can make significant financial and cultural improvements in people's lives.

We've got slow food, and now slow money. Why not slow startups? Everyone wants viable new solutions and the emerging model is competence and sustainability, not speed.

Just as there is great honor in slow foods and what that idea brings to commerce, there is also great honor and long-term value in creating slow enterprise models.

We need to make entrepreneurship simpler and more accessible. We need to nurture entrepreneurship that builds and sustains our communities and our regions. We need to help people create and build their own enterprises in ways that fit into their lives appropriately.

Slow startups take into account whatever your personal and financial status is. This model allows you to build and test your own enterprise at your own pace, so that in the end you will have a service or a product that you're passionate about and a sustainable business model supporting it.

Slow startups certainly match up well with my own boomer demographic. I also think these kind of slow launches will fit in well with the wonderful artisinal young people doing so many cool things out there. And if you're in the middle, what's wrong with trying to create a long-term job for yourself by slowly starting your own business now?

So, here's my news: Most startups take far longer than the people think. This is especially true for small, self-funded startups. That's not a bad thing, it just is. What this should be saying to you is to start creating your own small business ASAP. It will take longer than you think to get underway. Start one while you have a day job. Start one in your spare time. I know, this is not easy, but the time is there. Find what time you can and put it to work.

By taking the process slowly, you will learn far more than by rushing through it. You will learn to enjoy the journey.

If you REALLY love this process after trying it out, you can circle back and do startups over and over - a perfectly viable and compelling career path in the 21st century.

In trying to help some new enterprises through our economic development office, I've been re-using the Micro-Enterprise courses I wrote and taught through the Small Business Center at WCTC in Waukesha. It's my slow startup manual.

Slow startups perfectly suit micro-enterprise and vice versa.

What do I really mean? I mean you can invest a few hundred dollars and a year or two of part time effort and come out the other end with a viable enterprise that's making money and building greater security and independence into your life. From there you can nurture and grow it in any direction you want.

If you have more time and money to invest, you can shorten your timeline to launch. This also makes it possible to make expensive mistakes. Careful.

So, start now. Start slow. Take some time to think about this and explore the possibilities. Here is my outline:

Slow startups. What to do first.

There are six fairly simple, but critically important steps to launching a slow startup. These make slow startups sustainable:

- Get a realistic understanding of what it takes to wake up an idea, as well as the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship and how to plan for both.

- Learn what information you'll need, how to find it, and how to use that information once you find it.

- Learn how become a professional at what you do, and where to turn for help.

- Create a management structure that builds your own confidence, deals with the details, and creates peace of mind for all involved.

- Learn how to market and sell in your niche.

- Learn to capture your data and turn it into commerce.

These six approaches to slow startups were the core of the six courses I wrote and taught through the Small Business Center.

They are my roadmap for creating slow startup enterprises. Each one of these topics unfolded into a 90+ minute discussion in my Micro-Enterprise courses when we dug into all the how-to stuff. There are multiple, discreet steps behind each of these major categories. I really loved sharing these ideas in depth.

I want you to know that it's not complicated. It just takes time. Take informed, measured steps. Develop mastery in small valuable steps. Make as many inexpensive mistakes as you can as quickly as you can. Execute. Innovate. Repeat.

It is not hard, but it does take time. Slow startups. Start one now and you'll thank yourself down the road.

As Tom Peters says, "Everyone has a chance to learn, improve, and build up their skills. Everyone has a chance to be a brand worthy of remark."

This is the Renaissance Age of entrepreneurship, and its just beginning.

Welcome friend. Now get going.

Tom Peters site

Friday, October 02, 2009

Creative Birthing

In most discussions about entrepreneurship, the talk usually comes around to 'creative destruction'. This is a term created by economist Joseph Schumpeter. It describes the inevitable loss of value in enterprises that do not innovate.

Wikipedia's description: "In Schumpeter's vision of capitalism, innovative entry by entrepreneurs was the force that sustained long-term economic growth, even as it destroyed the value of established companies that enjoyed some degree of monopoly power."

If you are on the losing side, it is painful and sad when the market share of older companies is eaten by younger more innovative enterprises.

What's useful here is that innovation is available to everyone. Innovation does not have to equal high, unmanaged growth. Innovation can be increased value and service to your stakeholders (think of the excellent book, Small Giants). Indeed, innovation is limitless and never-ending by its nature. So yes, there will be creative destruction.

The next step is to build platforms for 'creative birthing'. I see 'creative birthing' as a way to prosper through the inevitable destruction by allowing ever-increasing numbers of individuals and groups to participate in innovation and entrepreneurship. Even as creative destruction overtakes the less nimble, people involved in those dying companies will have the advantage of easily participating in new, more creative and innovative launches.

Hybrid entity/governance models will likely emerge. New kinds of stakeholders will likely emerge (think of the great new work forming within the Slow Money Alliance). By supporting 'creative birthing' processes and platforms, I think economic regions can prosper. Those that don't help enable easier 'creative birthing' processes will eventually suffer.

In a previous post I linked to a study showing that regions with the highest business 'birth rates' (startups, which everyone celebrates) also had the highest 'death rates' of companies going under. Many places treat these business closures as failures, while the most successful places (highest birth rates) celebrate the culture of entrepreneurship and make pathways into that model easier.

Working in a social profit (non-profit) organization that is neither private or government, I feel a wonderful nimbleness to work on models to make entrepreneurship easier. Governments shouldn't do this stuff. Too often, private enterprise is locked in to their own form of 'creative destruction' and not interested in new options. The best enterprises don't do this, but they are typically a minority.

I think the local food processing cluster we are trying to build is a worthy experiment in 'creative birthing'. However, this is not 'The' experiment, it's 'an' experiment. There are countless other experiments possible across all types of enterprises and geographies.

There is no other way to deal with creative destruction than acknowledge it and build systems to temper and even utilize that destruction: creative birthing is here to stay.

I greatly enjoyed sharing some of these ideas with many new friends in the Regional Food Systems Working Group at the Leopold Center this week. The meeting was held at the beautiful Iowa Arboretum in Madrid, IA. I highly recommend a visit!

Wikipedia, 'Creative Destruction'

Prior post on birth rates / death rates

Slow Money Alliance

Regional Food Systems Working Group

Small Giants, by Bo Burlingham

Iowa Arboretum

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fun With Governance

I'm really looking forward to speaking at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Ames, Iowa next Wednesday, Sept. 30.

This will be at a meeting of their Regional Food Systems Working Group, which is a program of the Iowa Value Chain Partnerships initiative sponsored by The Leopold Center. Very cool work. Links below.

I need their help and can't wait to discuss our Iowa County initiative to create a local food-processing cluster.

The biggest issues we are coming across in launching this food-processing cluster are governance related. This will be a wonky subject to some, but the issue is critical. We need new organizational structures to match market opportunities and community economic development needs.

In my opinion the experiments we most need to create should be designed to test alternative business governance structures. We need to take existing and emerging governance tools and mix them up into new platforms for doing enterprise creation and economic development.

I believe we need to experiment with new combinations of entity types. We've got LLCs, cooperatives, S-Corps, partnerships of all flavors, and now even L3Cs. It used to be that you had to pick one entity style and run with it. I think there are a lot of possibilities for doing great development work by creating projects with multiple governance types set up in advance that work in service to one another. Combining the strengths of different types of governance creates many unique tools for creating successful economic development as I see it.

For instance, I'm now helping run a non-profit (or social profit enterprise as my daughter E would say). If I were to advise someone about starting a non-profit I would have them look into organizing legally as a standard 501(c)3 (or (c)6) but having the attorney embed a for-profit LLC within that non-profit structure when it is created. This way you can operate the mission as chartered, but you embed a workable funding source from the outset.

It is always cheaper and easier to put these designs into play at from the outset, especially when outside investors and financial stakeholders are involved. Yes, structures can always be changed later, but it can be complicated, expensive and time-consuming.

That's why we have worked on the forms of governance for the Iowa County food processing cluster so carefully. We want to design and execute a successful experiment that can be reproduced and improved on.

We had only considered cooperative governance at the beginning for a number of reasons, but co-ops have their limitations, just like every other form of governance.

What I seem to be learning in the food cluster is the same lesson I found in my non-profit world: there is a great need for experimenting with governance tools to produce hybrid structures that can work efficiently in this new market. You need to create enterprises that make a profit and are sustainable. You need a way to fit this entity into the world of private and public investors and align everyone's expectations with the community and economic development goals of that entity from the outset.

So, we continue to explore all of these paths. I had a great meeting this week at Isthmus Engineering in Madison, which is organized as a unique form of cooperative. They do some of the coolest design and production work I've ever seen. Check out the YouTube video on their home page linked below.

At this meeting also I got to meet Melissa Hoover who is the Executive Director of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. I learned a great deal about challenges facing new enterprises and alternate forms of governance nationwide. Melissa is a really nice person and a wonderful business resource.

I'm convinced the next thing needed for regional economic development are experiments of all kinds in non-traditional and hybrid forms of enterprise governance. Then when those experiments are run and proven effective, their structures can be reproduced inexpensively.

That's what economic developers and funders of all kinds should put some attention into. Right now it's hard and complicated for individual economic developers and entrepreneurs to create these structures. It shouldn't be. Let's do the experiments. Let's find what works. Let's discover which paths are reproducible. Then we can make our results - especially the design of successful hybrid governance models - available to others at a price and hassle-factor they can afford.

Ready access to inexpensive, reproducible hybrid governance structures is a vital, missing piece for regional economic development. I am thrilled to be able to help design experiments with this goal as the object of the work.

Yes, a wonky topic, but I can't think of anything more needed in the world of sustainable economic development right now.

With the help of great new friends I'm convinced our Iowa County initiative can make a lasting contribution to the field of regional economic development and building better regional food systems.

Makes me hungry.

Aldo Leopold Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. Regional Food Systems Working Group

Isthmus Engineering

United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives

Introduction to L3C governance. Short introduction to Low-Profit Limited Liability Companies. Our newest entity form, now emerging state by state.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Plumbing for Joy? Be Your Own Boss

The title of this post comes from a Wall Street Journal article this week which I'll link to at the end. I'll also highlight some really important points this article make about sustainable entrepreneurship.

First some news from Iowa County Economic Development. The Driftless Foods project was awarded a $24,400 grant to help organize and launch. The train is leaving the station. Big, serious steps are ahead, but I have high hopes this wonderful project will power through them and emerge as an effective, reproducible model for doing local-foods entrepreneurship.

Speaking of local-foods entrepreneurship, the contractor is moving dirt at the new Innovation Kitchen that our Hodan Center will be opening next year in Mineral Point. Here again, I would like to help create a reproducible model for opening a state certified, community shared-use kitchen. Done right, a platform like this, operating at a regional scale can create literally hundreds of new jobs and help dozens of existing small food enterprises (SFEs) grow and prosper.

It is just a flat-out challenging and wonderful experience to be able help design these economic development experiments.

The Wall Street Journal article about entrepreneurship was written by Sue Shellenbarger. It opens with a great introduction the perils and motivations of entrepreneurship: "By economic yardsticks, Roger the Plumber should be feeling pretty low. Roger Peugeot, owner of the 14-employee Overland Park, Kan., plumbing company that bears his name, is part of a sector hit hard by shrunken credit and slumping sales. He has been forced to reduce staff and is battling new competition from other plumbers fleeing the construction industry."

"So why is Mr. Peugeot so happy? He genuinely likes fixing plumbing messes, for one thing, and despite the worst recession he has seen, "I'm still excited to get up and go to work every day," he says. He relishes running into people at the local hardware store whom he has helped in the past. And in hard times, he says, his fate is in his own hands, rather than those of a manager. "Even when things get tough, I'm still in control," he says."

(me) Whew… what that guy said.

Now, let's bring up your entrepreneurship possibilities under this scenario. I want you to get to that state of mind. Do you have to start with employees like Roger the Plumber? Do you have to quit your day job?

I would posit that starting a small business while you are still working for managers creates hope and an empowering taste of personal independence and control in people's lives.

"The WSJ continues: "As a business owner, Mr. Peugeot says, "even when things are out of your control, as they are with this economy, you're still in control of your relationships" with customers. Corporate managers and executives may "sit and wonder if they're going to be laid off, or get frustrated with the inabilities of management," he says. "If yo're the owner, you may have to say 'I screwed up,' but it's a lot better than saying, 'I didn't deserve that.'"

As an entrepreneur, you control your outcomes.

Entrepreneurship is also a path to more control over your time. The example the WSJ cites below is about a young mother, but there are seriously great life-improvements for people of every age group when you can take some control over your time.

" The freedom business owners have to control their schedules enables them to adhere more closely to their personal priorities, says Amy Neftzger, an organizational psychologist for Healthways. They have the flexibility to "make it to a child's play, or spend time with family," she says."

In Iowa County I'm doing my darndest to design and build some new platforms that will make this kind of entrepreneurship possible. I'm getting more confident in successful outcomes by the day. This is exactly the style of entrepreneur mentorship that the Small Business Center at WCTC let me create and teach.

Yes, entrepreneurship is a (not the) way to more self-control and personal fulfillment. It's also a ton of work (a fact I've been writing about since these posts started) so go in with your eyes wide open or don't go in.

From the WSJ:

"(Business owners) are more likely to work extremely long hours than people in any other occupation group, other Gallup research shows."

So how to deal with that? Start small. Start now. Make as many mistakes as you can as inexpensively as you can. Continue moving forward even in the midst of adversity. Then you can grow your business as your life allows.

What's totally, eccentrically fun about that process is that you can end up working prodigious percents of every day doing enjoyable, challenging, rewarding work, whose time-flow you control.

You can do it.

WSJ article, ' Plumbing for Joy? Be Your Own Boss', by Sue Shellenbarger. Wall St. Journal Sept 16, 2009

WCTC Small Business Center

I located this WSJ article through Tom Peters' great site

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's not a kitchen incubator.
It's an Innovation Kitchen.

Here in Wisconsin there is great interest in creating publicly available kitchen space to help small, local food enterprises come to life and grow. The short hand term for these efforts is 'kitchen incubators'. The model is that you can rent a state certified (expensive!) kitchen for a modest hourly rate and grow your own food business.

In our area, safety requires that foods produced for public sale need to be processed and packaged in a state inspected facility. Frankly this is a critical marketing benefit to be state certified. These inspections are probably required in most states, but I have not had the time to research.

The idea is to utilize public and private funds as available to create public shared-use kitchens as tools to enable local farmers, food enthusiasts, and food lovers of all kinds to become entrepreneurs.

I believe this idea will work for all kinds of locations. I see a very special place for this work in rural economic development where I spend my time.

I'm wrapped up in this subject at the moment. We have a public shared-use kitchen (kitchen incubator) opening in Iowa County early next year. It will be owned and operated by The Hodan Center, a wonderful enterprise celebrating and enriching the lives of people with disabilities. I am working with the Hodan Center on creating a public shared-use kitchen platform, available to the public when not used by Hodan activities.

I grew up with entrepreneurs, and I've been a working entrepreneur for 35 years. I honestly don't think I've ever seen a bigger, better or easier opportunity to explore entrepreneurship than in what I'm seeing now.

The Slow Money folks refer to these businesses as Small Food Enterprises (SFEs).

I dearly love this idea, but I don't think the phrase 'kitchen incubator' does this movement justice. The possibilities are much bigger and much more profound.

'Innovation Kitchen' is my term of art that embraces the new entrepreneurship possibilities of food. I am fully enchanted with what can happen from these kinds of platforms.

Creating a kitchen is not enough. Creating a network is what is needed. We are calling our new platform 'The Wisconsin Food Innovation Network', or, the Innovation Kitchen' for short.

In our area, we are all indebted to Mary Pat Carlson of the Farm Market Kitchen in Algoma, WI (linked below). Mary Pat pioneered this concept in Wisconsin and is making it work. Mary Pat is generously helping those of us with new kitchens in the planning and building stages understand what's required for these to succeed.

What excites me so much about this idea is that is speaks so clearly to the almost endless possibilities for entrepreneurship these certified kitchen platforms provide.

I've been saying for a long time that this is the Renaissance Age of entrepreneurship and that it's just beginning. I believe our Innovation Kitchen can become a model for enabling all kinds of economies, but the economic development benefits can be especially transformational for rural and agricultural regions.

Our new Wisconsin Food Innovation Network will focus on creating a sustainable platform for creating and growing food-based enterprises. I see the network aspect of this as creating, in advance, relationships for the kitchen with buyers, vendors, professional advisers, and entrepreneurship assets.

The Wisconsin Food Innovation Network will open its Innovation Kitchen in Mineral Point, WI in early 2010. We are planning the public-use protocols with the idea of learning what is most sustainable and reproducible over time and in other locations.

I'll be dedicating our first Iowa County Entrepreneur and Inventor Club meeting to a wide ranging discussion of the kitchen with Hodan staff available for questions. That meeting will be Wednesday, Sept. 23 in Dodgeville, WI at the Stonefield Apartments. Doors open at 5:30 PM. Meeting starts at 6.

I have focused these posts recently on our work to help create our Iowa County Initiative, Driftless Foods. This is designed to create a planned system for a local-foods processing cluster in a discreet region. The Innovation Kitchen fits this project hand in glove. It is my belief that over time, some entrepreneurs working from the Innovation Kitchen will 'graduate' into bigger revenue roles and need bigger processing and support capabilities. We will have that infrastructure waiting for them with Driftless Foods.

The time has come to roll this out big time. I am SO looking forward to working with and supporting the Hodan Center and the Wisconsin Food Innovation Network.

I will use this space to report back on what worked, what didn't, and (oh my!) all those possibilities….

The Hodan Center

The Farm Market Kitchen

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Community supported development and the Good Food Network

Mark and I got to talk with a wonderful group at a meeting last week in Chicago. It was a gathering of the Good Food Network of the Upper Midwest.

I got to reconnect with friends and meet people I'd only known through email. There was a wide-ranging discussion about our local food processing proposals. People in the room included universities, foundations, research institutions, food sales and distribution firms, and funding collaboratives representing local governments and large public institutional food buyers.

It was flat-out invigorating to participate. The very best parts of the discussion were the ones that pushed us hardest to justify the concept and details of our local foods processing project.

The give and take was really great. Mark and I got to disagree with each other on new stuff right in front of them. It was like doing the most fun parts of a startup in front of a live audience. I love my job.

These good folks are in a national conversation sponsored by the National Good Food Network (NGFN). This arises from the Wallace Center and Winrock International, which are all linked below.

Here is a short introduction to the NGFN: "The National Good Food Network is bringing together people from all parts of the rapidly emerging good food system – producers, buyers, distributors, advocates, investors and funders – to create a community dedicated to scaling up good food sourcing and access."

"The challenge presented by the food system is our opportunity—to revolutionize business models, develop new market relationships, and add value to traditional supply chain infrastructure, so that the growing business of good food is sown in the values of good food – all the way from farm to fork."

This was very interesting to me to be included in this larger national conversation about revolutionizing business models to meet clear market challenges. These are significant players, all well connected into the agriculture and food industries, and they are nurturing and inspiring change, not running from it. My kind of meeting. My kind of people.

As we roll out the Dirftless Foods / Iowa County Initiative, we're down to a few key details as I see it. We have a choice of doing this with largely private money or focusing on government grants. A hybrid model is likely and the implications of that decision will keenly influence the legal structure the project adopts.

Seeing how the Good Food Network is reaching across many traditionally closed boundaries to create new conversations about change and effectiveness, I feel much more confident about helping build a hybrid business model for our local foods processing facilities. They are after results not more discussion. That's what I want for this project: long-lasting, high quality results that benefit all stakeholders.

Our ideas for community sponsored development fit well into this model of a hybrid organization. We are designing a model to attract the investment from local investors and local groups, regional governments, as well as regional and national enterprises both public and private.

As the GFN says of themselves, "The National Good Food Network represents practitioners across the value chain building a new food system that rewards sustainable production, treats growers and workers fairly, improves the health of families and the wealth of communities, and meets the growing demand for healthy, green, fair, affordable food."

Sign me up. Let's get this done.

Many thanks to the Good Food Network of the Upper Midwest for a really illuminating introduction to their work and, best of all, a new way of looking at mine.

National Good Food Network

The Wallace Center

Short biography of Henry Wallace

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Community Supported Development

My mission is to create as many small, sustainable enterprises as possible. Working with Mark on the Driftless Foods / Iowa County initiative I've come to believe that the best way to create large numbers of new enterprises is by building new local economic infrastructure designed to support them.

Mark and I have been talking about community supported development (CSDs) as a new piece of economic infrastructure whose time has come. It is a model we'll pursue for growing Driftless Foods.

Much as community supported agriculture (CSAs) seeks to create long-term vibrant farms in local communities, CSDs would seek to build long-term vibrant enterprises of all kinds into local communities.

The CSA metaphor is intended. In a bad year you'll get a smaller basket of produce. In a good year you're awash in zucchini. What if the returns were dividends not veggies?

Community supported development can be a tool for creating, funding, and growing long-term local economic infrastructure in communities and regions. With a little planning, this infrastructure can be designed to strengthen market-based local entrepreneurship for generations.

The infrastructure supplied by community-supported development can be digital, and/or brick and mortar capacity, and certainly many other manifestations. In our case we are trying to create a platform for moving large quantities of regional foods into a processing and distribution system geared toward mid-tier farms. This will require the creation of a legal entity capable of organizing that kind of effort; the building of a physical structure robust enough to do this efficiently; and the wiring up of social networks that will enable this project to move forward. Some of this is old-fashioned shoe leather, but much of it will involve investing in the tools to needed to launch and grow this community effort.

In our case we are trying to create a community based economic development platform that will not only benefit local enterprise but critically, community investors as well.

Community supported development would employ judicious early use of funds available from public sources such as grants and loans from economic development sources in government and

People from the community and the region should also be able to invest and benefit from this development as well. This is the heart of community supported development. Not only would local entrepreneurship benefit, but community investors would also benefit.

Community also implies those of like mind. If a place for an investment from the wider community is available that should be available to supporters wherever they are.

Sound legal structures can be put in place to allow individuals and local entities to invest in this way.

There is, thankfully, no 'one' right way. Many traditional investing formats will work. There are also new legal forms of organization emerging all over the country, state by state, that are allowing many creative new ways to create and build sustainable entrepreneurship.

So, how do you organize that? Clearly you hard wire self-interest into the equation. You just can't talk about win-win. The system needs to DO win-win. Sustainable = repeatable. Over and over. Mutual self-interest is a repeatable platform.

Our job as economic developers is to build win-win into the equation from the beginning with the entire community in mind.

The local benefits derived from community sponsored development will be greater economic diversification and security. More capital will circulate locally. People and local organizations of all kinds will also reap the benefits of living in an economy that grows entrepreneurs.

The regional benefits of this kind of economic development will grow immediately. As more and more of these new startup enterprises are created and nurtured they will begin to interact in mutually self-interested ways. This will benefit the entrepreneur organizations and create region-level community supported development platforms.

I know that multi-state benefits will accrue as this model builds out. The wider an area that can be knit together by self-interest, the more chances there are for finding and growing profitable partnerships for all involved. Our previous startup used this very model as we grew our fluid recycling business. We knit together partnerships all across the upper Midwest. As projects came and went, unique multi-state coalitions of these partners would come together on demand.

What's needed are more partners. We need to create the infrastructure for entrepreneurship to thrive.

Community supported development is an idea whose time has come.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Slow Money - White Paper 1

When a group of us presented the case for the Driftless Foods Cooperative/Iowa County initiative to the Slow Money Institute in Madison, we came equipped with our proposals in writing.

Here is the text of the first white paper that introduced the design of our solution to our friends in Slow Money and those of us who came to learn that day. Two additional papers describing the details of our Iowa County initiative were also presented.

Driftless Foods Cooperative. Building the Next Steps

White Paper 1. Executive Summary. 7/25/09

The plan is to grow a network of interrelated, mutually supportive local food processing facilities on a county-wide scale under the direction of a leadership cooperative structure. Our goal is to create a highly transparent, well documented model that can be readily reproduced in other regions.

The Driftless Foods Co-Op will be a market-driven organization supplying locally produced and processed foods to the 35 million people in our local region.

Driftless Foods will be organized as a leadership co-op. This leadership level will provide business services for all individual facility teams that emerge from future business opportunities, including training, mentoring, research, sales, marketing, and financial support.

The core principles of the Driftless Foods Co-Op include regional fair trade, local control, promotion of local foods and local processing, and the distribution of profits to the producer level and the communities they live in. These core principles will be guaranteed in all future relationships created by the co-op.

A three-year design for a system of interrelated local food processing facilities is planned. These facilities will work in concert with the hub facility, an individually quick frozen (IQF) plant in the Village of Highland, Iowa County, WI, planned for year one.

In the following year two, the design calls for building a hydroponic / extended growing season facility in the Village of Avoca as well as an artisan dairy plant in the Village of Barneveld. At the Avoca site, plans are in place to utilize new waste digesters for heat generation to run the facility. In the following year the leadership team will add scale-appropriate, technology-driven facilities that process local/regional poultry as well as the growing goat and sheep herds in our region.

In the third year, the design also calls for the creation of a facility to process a Driftless branded line of regional pet foods. Not only will this benefit animal farming in the region, but it will also allow for food resources from the other processing facilities that may have been considered 'waste' products to be included in the pet food line as a high value-added benefit for the brand.

Clearly there is an immediate need to build out the IQF hub facility in Highland as a first step in building a local food network. As a stand-alone facility it is a compelling business case. As a base for creating a region-scale reproducible local food processing network it is vital.

The Driftless Foods team held its initial kickoff meeting in an 1875 school house, now the Town Hall for the Iowa County Town of Wyoming, just down the road from Taliesin.

Less than two weeks before the meeting, there were 15 people on the mailing list. Within that two weeks more that 200 people asked to join the list and over 50 showed up for the kickoff meeting. What was critical was who the attendees represented. Virtually every person there was a leader of a significant network of people involved in entrepreneurship, local foods, farming, and economic development.

What they reported after our meeting was the key value of the project as something that could be readily reproduced in their own areas and in areas with different agricultural and economic assets.

Driftless Foods Co-Op is an opportunity to create a reproducible local foods processing model that celebrates local foods, is profitable, and returns value directly to the producers, the communities they live in, and the regions that support them for generations.

Authors: Rick Terrien and Mark Olson

Slow Money Alliance

Friday, August 07, 2009

Local Food Processing. Small is Beautiful

When Woody Tasch from Slow Money came to town last week I was startled to hear him respectfully and with gratitude reference the book Small is Beautiful.

I'd read Slow Money and was struck by the possibilities but hadn't connected the work to E. F. Schumacher and his great book, "Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered."

But this is a natural 21st century marriage. Efficient, market-driven financial discipline, with sustainable goals and methods, (Slow Money) meets smart, appropriate-scale technologies, in this case taking the form of local foods and sustainable agriculture.

What a magic time for this combination to occur. Demand is off the chart for local foods. Production and processing techniques are faster, smarter, cheaper. Tools for design, organizing, marketing, sales and distribution have never been better or less expensive. I'm back to the fact that this is indeed the Renaissance age of entrepreneurship, and it's just beginning.

Food is an issue whose time has come. There is a wonderful quote from Wisconsin's own Aldo Leopold in his Sand County Almanac that ties in here. Think about the following Leopold quote in terms of sustainable agriculture, local processing, local foods and healthy, more compelling communities; "By and large our present problem is one of attitudes and implements. We are remodeling the Alhambra with a steam-shovel, and are proud of our yardage. We shall hardly relinquish the shovel, which after all has many good points, but we are in need of gentler and more objective criteria for its successful use."

Free markets have nurtured the greatest freedoms in human history, but we need to apply those tools in less destructive, more successful ways especially in the way we feed and nurture ourselves and the place we live.

As a group of us works to design an efficient, reproducible local foods processing system with our Driftless Foods, Iowa County initiative, none of us are taking anything as gospel. Small is beautiful not because it sounds good as a theory on paper but because technology has evolved small, smart, nimble processing equipment that makes better use of resources and produces higher, more sustainable profits. That's why small is beautiful. Schumacher was [is!] right.

Small is a matter of perspective certainly. The multiple local foods processing plants we are designing to work in a self-supportive coalition, are not garden sheds. They will take a lot of money by anyone's standards. They will be technologically and environmentally brilliant. Small? No, compared to farmyard vegetable stands. Yes, compared to the Wall Street backed food system now falling apart.

One of my favorite Schumacher quotes sums up what a new local foods processing system might look like: "The aim ought to be to obtain the maximum amount of well being with the minimum amount of consumption." That is, an ultra lean, wise production system that creates great multi-generational jobs for a community, passing the bulk of the profits into a pool that all contributors are compensated from equitably.

I'm going to post the first Driftless Foods Cooperative white paper that we produced by separate headline following this. It's a short overview of the project.

Small is beautiful because it is smart, sustainable and profitable. Above all else small is valuable because it is reproducible .

In economic terms, that's a beautiful thing.

The E.F. Schumacher Society

Small is Beautiful. Wikipedia

The Aldo Leopold Foundation

Aldo Leopold. Wikipedia

The Aldo Leopold quote in this post is from the dedications page of the 25th Anniversary edition of Small is Beautiful.